Safe Kids Tampa, led by St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital of Tampa, has tailored its Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program to meet the needs of both urban and suburban children in 25 area schools during the past two years.
Bevin Maynard, Safe Kids Tampa Coordinator, works with each school’s principal and outreach coordinator to learn the best way to impact the students with SRTS programming, and she focuses on improving safety. In Tampa, the streets are congested, and students must walk on the grass when sidewalks are not present due primarily to right of way issues and lack of space. Building sidewalks is a challenge because of the current infrastructure in the city.
“Many children in urban communities are walking to school in an unsafe environment,” Maynard notes. “We want to work with these students to encourage safe bike and pedestrian behaviors. We want them to take responsibility for their own safety. They are walking and we want to make sure they are doing so safely.”
“On the flip side, we have other issues to work on in our suburban areas,” Maynard adds. There are opportunities for children to safely walk and bicycle to school in the suburban areas of Hillsborough County because these roads were built more recently and were planned for safer student travel. Due to budget cuts, the school system does not offer courtesy busing to students who live within two miles of school if it is safe to walk to school. This provides an added incentive to teach safe skills to county students and to increase the number of students biking and walking. The main issue in suburban areas is a change from students riding the bus to riding in their parents’ cars, which has increased traffic in and around the schools. The goal in the suburban areas is to increase the number of bikers and walkers and decrease the number of cars. County PTAs, which tend to have more resources, have been especially supportive of the SRTS efforts.
Florida has a statewide Crossing Guard Training Program and it is implemented locally by The Hillsborough County Sheriff ’s Department. In addition, Florida requires children who are less than 16 years old to wear bicycle helmets, and in lower income areas, if the children cannot afford a helmet, Safe Kids Tampa’s SRTS program provides one.
Safe Kids Tampa has had an ongoing relationship with Florida’s Department of Transportation District 7, which in 2007 awarded the program a $50,000 SRTS non-infrastructure grant to be used for education and encouragement efforts at five elementary schools over a three-month period.
Safe Kids Tampa was awarded an additional $177,280.50 in 2007 from District 7 to expand the program, and that grant cycle will be completed in August 2009. Part of the funding was used to purchase a fleet of bikes and helmets. At each school, Maynard organized a bike rodeo during the school day for third-, fourth- and fifthgraders. Kindergartners through second-graders enjoyed an assembly about bike and pedestrian safety. Schools held contests for drawings and essays about pedestrian and bicycle safety for kindergartners through fifthgraders, and students in each grade had the chance to win a bike or scooter.
The schools’ morning announcements featured bicycle and pedestrian safety messages during Walk and Bike Safety Week, and schools held a Walk and Bike to School Parade where parents walked or biked with their children within a half mile of the school.
“They’re a lot safer,” after the training, Maynard says, and some youngsters walk with older siblings. “The children are taking more responsibility for their own safety.”
City engineers have worked with Safe Kids to address vehicle speed issues, and the SRTS program was awarded $2,000 from the American Society of Safety Engineers and Tampa Area Safety Council to purchase bikes and scooters.
Schools report fewer families driving to school even in suburban areas. “It’s really about changing the culture over time,” Maynard notes.
Most staff time is funded by the SRTS grant, and volunteers assist at the rodeos. In addition, the program has a partnership with the University of South Florida to conduct evaluations of the project to determine if there is an increase in bicycling and pedestrian knowledge.
Maynard is writing another grant to expand the program to more schools and to include a middle school component.
Although Maynard has not organized a media campaign, SRTS efforts have received good coverage, thanks in part to a partnership with FedEx that brought Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jeff Garcia to Sulphur Springs Elementary School before Super Bowl XLIII to raise awareness about safety issues. In the partnership with the FedEx Safe Kids Walk This Way program, FedEx awarded Safe Kids a $25,000 grant that funded a speed table project to decrease speeds near the school and helped fund promotional items, bicycles and helmets. In addition, FedEx sponsors a yearly Safe Kids Walk this Way program every October and awards Safe Kids Tampa an additional $1,500 in funding to work with elementary schools to increase safety around the school.
In the 2007 – 2008 school year, Safe Kids held 14 bicycle rodeos that reached 3,340 students and held nine Walk and Roll events in which 960 students, parents and teachers participated. Also, 2,560 students attended the 10 school assemblies. The program distributed 645 Walk this Way T-shirts and handed out 1,620 Walk and Roll reflective string backpacks, 1,690 reflective blinking lights, 365 bike helmets, and 48 bikes.
In 2008 – 2009, Safe Kids Tampa held 10 bicycle rodeos with 1,870 participants, and 1,870 students learned about bicycle and pedestrian safety during assemblies. In addition, 735 students participated in Walk and Roll to School as well as 380 parents and teachers. Maynard gave away 60 scooters and 872 helmets, as well as 675 blinking lights, 1,175 bags, 1,145 shirts and 6,347 activity sheets and certificates.
A week before the Super Bowl, Fed Ex hosted a pedestrian safety event for Sulphur Springs Elementary School. Jeff Garcia, the NFL “coach” for the day shared some personal thoughts on safety and education with 550 students. During the assembly, 12 students who won an art contest received a bike, a helmet and a signed football from Garcia. A winning class participated in safety stations with Garcia, including helmet/bike safety and safe crossing/vehicle behavior.
Safe Kids is planning to expand the SRTS program to middle school, and Maynard intends to hold a focus group to determine the best way to make a difference in this age group. Some of these city students ride city buses to school. Jeff Garcia, Quaterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helps to raise awareness about pedestrian and bicycle safety. For more resources and information on Safe Routes to School, please visit the National Center for Safe Routes to School Web site at www.saferoutesinfo.org.
A Back to School Bash at the Tampa Convention Center is scheduled for August 2009, and Maynard expects 12,000 people to attend. The Bash will have an indoor bike rodeo with five stations, and organizers will provide and fit correctly 800 helmets. Maynard also plans to conduct a survey to find out where the students live, if they walk or bike to school and the reasons for their choices.
Safe Kids Tampa